Anatomy is featured throughout the practice and theorization of Italian art in the sixteenth century. Yet, almost without exception, the textual and pictorial evidence has been taken to suggest that artists were concerned only with superficial anatomy, those parts of the body visible on its outsides such as muscles, bones, and sinews.
This talk takes issue with this perspective, turning to artworks to build a different point of view. Building on the speaker’s research on Michelangelo’s investment in internal anatomical matters, this talk proposes that other artists of his time, especially Bronzino, paid particular attention to the meaning of the internal organs like the liver, heart, and brain, referencing those organs to explain the internal states of represented bodies. Although such references were only occasionally systematic, this talk contends that they contributed to something like an elite visual language of the body that depended on a long tradition in Tuscan poetry with special reference to Dante.
These findings emphasize that the Mannerist body cannot be easily dismissed as a matter only of arbitrary or ornamental form, and they cause us to rethink what “artificiality” means in discussing the art of the period.
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